Batman: No Man's Land

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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A Bat Family Crossover that ran through the main Batman titles in 1999. After a rash of bad luck—superflu/ebola outbreak, another outbreak, and a 7.6 earthquake, two of which were courtesy of Ra's al Ghul—the US Government decides Gotham City is too costly to save and instead blows the bridges, effectively cutting the city off from the rest of the world for a year. The inmates of Arkham Asylum are loose, no one's coming to help, there are about a dozen honest cops willing to save the city, and Batman is missing. Worried yet?

Implicitly, the idea was to drag the Gotham of The Eighties and the Burton films into the 21st century. Thematically, the story is something like Mad Max, Escape from New York, and The Warriors all rolled into the DC Universe, and turns the dial Up to Eleven on Gotham's usual portrayal as a Wretched Hive.

In the meantime, high doses of awesome come from just about everyone. Even the Ventriloquist.

The story also brought to an end the majority of Batman stories throughout The Nineties—notably, the aforementioned Contagion and Cataclysm stories, as well as Knightfall and even Batman: Year One. Somewhat surprisingly, the political angle of the story averted any particular anvils being dropped, except when talking about unconstitutionalism (and even then, the characters lampshaded away any possible accusations of silliness). Elsewhere, NML also gave the comics new characters like Cassandra Cain and her father, David, introduced Harley Quinn into the DCU, and set up plot points that later books like Gotham Central and even Superman would deal with (namely Lex Luthor becoming President of these United States).

In 2000, DC released a hardcover novelisation, written by Greg Rucka. Starting in 2012 as well, DC is re-releasing the series in a group of big honkin' softcovers, with preciously unincluded issues.

The reminder of Escape from New York actually inspired not one but two superhero sandbox video games; In Famous and Prototype. Batman's own sandbox game, Batman: Arkham City, is also very thematically similar. Based on the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises that movie seems to take some elements from this.

Tropes used in Batman: No Man's Land include:
  • Achilles in His Tent: Batman is this for about three months after his failure to reverse Congress's decision.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Several issues focus on the day-to-day lives of the citizens trapped in No Man's Land instead of concentrating on the big name superheroes and villains.
  • Anticlimax Boss: Depending on how you view the ending, or if you were waiting for Joker's big move to either happen earlier or be larger in scope and body-count, the ending, chilling though it be, can come off thusly.
    • If you were looking for a grand rematch between Batman and Bane, sorry. Their meeting was fairly civil—but, somewhat paradoxically, still manages to be awesome.
  • Anti-Villain: Two-Face.
  • Anyone Can Die: Somewhat averted. Except for Sarah-Essen Gordon.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Penguin imagines he's in one with Luthor. He gets schooled. Badly.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: But chiefly The Joker for Batman, and Lex Luthor for Bruce Wayne.
  • Big No: Scarecrow when his Humans Are the Real Monsters theory is disproved by the refugees in the Ark Project cathedral.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sarah Essen-Gordon is dead, The Joker is alive, and though no one knows it quite yet, Lex Luthor is on his way to the White House. On the other hand, Batman and his family have returned, the Bat-signal shines in the skies over Gotham for the first time in a year, and and the city is reopened and readmitted to the Union.
  • Blatant Lies: One of the series' marketing points was that Batman was missing. He got better.
    • The first several issues, Batman IS missing. In fact, a major plot point is that Gordon feels he deserted Gotham and is incredibly bitter about it. The second half of the first volume is Batman reestablishing himself after a three month absence.
  • Bound and Gagged: When Batman sees the six civilians that Two-Face killed, he goes into Unstoppable Rage mode, invades Harvey's courthouse headquarters, and easily does this to him. The threats that follow make Two-Face look genuinely terrified that Batman might break his Thou Shalt Not Kill code.
  • Bread and Circuses: How most of the villains (especially the Penguin) keep their "territories" under control.
  • Canon Immigrant: This is the story that brought arch-moll Harley Quinn into the DCU. Mercy Graves, Luthor's aide-de-camp from Superman: The Animated Series, is also introduced.
  • Captain Ersatz: Huntress for Batgirl, early on--without Barbara Gordon's blessing.
  • Cardboard Prison: Somewhat averted at first; Arkham actually activates its quake-proof shutters when the initial quake hits, locking all of the lunatics inside. It's only when Gotham is actually declared a No Man's Land, and the staff begins to leave one-by-one, that Jeremiah Arkham is forced to let out the inmates because he cannot stomach the thought of leaving them inside to slowly starve to death (it's hinted that his ultimate decision comes from his childhood pet cat suffering a similar fate).
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Most of the big villains except Two-Face, including Luthor and everyone's favourite clown. Poison Ivy averts it with her Robinson Park orphans and the Penguin's more neutral than anything.
  • The Chessmaster: Luthor and his ridiculously circuitous scheme: destroy any and all real-estate records in Gotham and substitute them with new ones reflecting ownership by Lex Corp, meaning that most of the original owners who might sue to correct this 'error' had already fled the NML, were missing, or dead.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Two-Face accuses Jim Gordon of this. The Penguin tries to pull it on Lex Luthor and gets schooled. Badly.
  • Closed Circle: Gotham's shut off from the world for a year. There are National Guard outposts stationed outside the city with kill orders for anyone trying to get in. Or out. This also means anyone in town after the bridges are blown stays there. Played with, though, when Nightwing, Robin, Bane, Luthor and David Cain make their way into the No Man's Land—all under different circumstances and for different reasons.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The novelisation, of necessity, leaves out a bunch of subplots and even entire characters, including Azrael and Superman.
  • Covers Always Lie: Batman #563 shows The Joker standing triumphant over the ruins of Gotham. He doesn't show up in a single panel of the story.
  • Crazy Prepared: To start with, the fact that Bruce Wayne quake-proofed every building he owns. Save for Wayne Manor.
    • William Petit, head of the GCPD's rapid reaction force. A hardcore survivalist, he keeps an enormous stash of ammunition in an apartment building basement on the off chance Gotham degrades to the point where he'll need to fire guns a lot. In the beginning, this benefits the Blue Boys as he manages to "scrounge" enough ammo to keep them functional. But when he and his squad break away from Gordon to carve out their own territory, he takes his bullets with him.
  • Deal with the Devil: Several. Notably the Two-Face/Gordon alliance.
  • Death by Secret Identity: Dr. Patrick Kryder, a former psychiatrist, sees Batman unmasked after the latter gets into a fight with Killer Croc. When he tries to give Two-Face this information in exchange for protection, however, Harvey retaliates with a Hannibal Lecture about how in No Man's Land, Batman is the same as everyone - a man struggling to reclaim a social rung that will never be rebuilt. Thus, Batman's identity is useless to him. Harvey then promptly shoots the good doctor in the head.
  • Death Trap: Somehow, someway, Joker is still able get the resources to build a massive glass-box deathtrap complete with acid nozzles, lasers, and machine guns. And he ain't happy when Azrael shows up instead of Batman. So much so that he refuses to let Azrael even try to rescue the kid put inside the trap as bait.
  • Depending on the Writer: Naturally, since this arc has dozens of different writers. Killer Croc arguably gets it worst; dare to compare the versions:
    • Ian Edginton's Dumb Muscle version that beats up a man with valuable survival skills (whose value in No Man's Land is unimaginable) simply so he can be the "alpha male".
    • Devin Grayson's Bruiser with a Soft Center version that shows genuine concern for one of his Mooks, (going so far as to call him the only friend he has left), does his best to not start a fight in Leslie Thompkins' medical center until pressed, and only shows murderous intentions toward Zsasz, the guy that put said mook in critical condition in the first place.
    • Chuck Dixon's Genius Bruiser version, who's essentially The Kingpin with scaly skin and red eyes.
  • The Determinator: Huntress takes half a dozen bullets to the stomach from the Joker and keeps going. That tells you something about her right there.
  • The Dragon:
    • Tally Man to Two-Face.
    • Bane to Luthor.
  • Enemy Mine: The logical result of gang wars, factional rivalries and what-not. Played out to a brutal end with the Two-Face/Gordon alliance.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Two-Face really hates the Joker.
  • Fate Worse Than Death Basil Karlo, AKA Ultimate Clayface, being turned into fertilizer for Ivy's plants.
  • Foe Yay: From The Joker, as usual:

Joker is pointing a pair of scissors at a woman
Woman: Please please don't...
Joker: Between us, this has nothing to do with you...but I've got to get his attention, and so far nothing has worked.
Woman: ...Oh God don't please don't please I'm begging you.
A shadow looms over Joker and the woman
Joker: Darling, there you are! I was beginning to think you didn't love me...anymore?
Joker turns around, sees Bane
Joker: Oh, This Is Gonna Suck...

  • Foreshadowing: Harvey Dent's, er, relationship fixation obsession don't even look at her! with Renee Montoya.
  • For the Evulz: The only reason the Joker does anything.
    • Two-Face hiring David Cain to kill Jim Gordon has shades of this in the comics. The novelization elaborates on and at certain points outright changes his motives to be more sympathetic.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown: A little short on the "friendly" part, but Gotham's local Chinatown does play a role in at least two stories.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Well, no one really likes the Penguin, but since he's sitting on 90% of the goods in the quake-devastated Gotham, everyone has to come to him eventually.
  • Gatling Good: How Bane establishes his presence in awesome (toward the end of this page). A panel so manly it will make your testicles double in size.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jim Gordon and the rest of the GCPD loyalists/Blue Boys. Leave the city, especially when the US government tells any and all Gothamites still alive to get out of Dodge? Nuts to that!
    • Leslie Thompkins takes it even further when she refuses to leave Mr. Zsasz to die. Zsasz, as some might remember, is even more Ax Crazy than the Joker is - he literally lives to kill, and nothing else.
    • The Huntress, who faces the Joker—who it should be noted is at the utter top of his game—and lives to tell the tale.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The aftermath of Robin's battle with Mr. Freeze in the sewers lends itself to a particularly groan-worthy (but fun) one that would make Ahnold wince.
  • Ironic Echo: "I swear, that psycho must have had a bullet for every man, woman, and child in Gotham!"
  • It Is Beyond Saving: The premise of the arc is that the US government believes this about Gotham.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Batman find himself having to make the classic decision at one point between two mothers. The classic solution fails here, forcing him to find another one.
  • Kangaroo Court: Two-Face's initial M.O. when NML happens. Later, Gordon accuses him of pulling these when he's put on trial, making Two-Face resort to a more "fair" trial.
  • Knight Templar: "Commandant" Bill Pettit. Breaks with Gordon and the GCPD remnant because he thinks the NML's making them soft. Then he starts hoarding bullets, keeps his men very-nearly prisoners, and bullies Huntress like the tin-pot dictator he imagines himself to be—and all so he can maintain order. It gets worse when Joker starts threatening his people. The novelization makes it clear that he eventually just completely loses his mind.
  • Love Triangle: Believe it or not, one starts between The Joker, Harley, and a cartoonist Joker acquires as a new henchman. Yes, it's as screwed-up as it sounds.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Don't think for a minute that Scarecrow's any less dangerous without his fear toxins.
  • Mob War: The point of the story, at least until 3/4 of the way through, when the Arkham regulars start making noise. Not to mention Luthor and the Joker, both of whom set off the climax in different ways. Jim Gordon also decides to incite one between rival gangs, weakening them before having the "Blue Boys" (cops that chose to stay in NML) crush both and take over their territories.
  • Monster Clown: Aww, you highlighted this. For shame!
  • Mood Whiplash: While the Bat-books themselves may have undergone a dark, gritty, realistic tone during this crossover, other DC books that take place during this period retain a rather lighthearted tone. Tie-in arcs such as Nightwing's adventures in Metropolis, Robin's in Keystone City, and the like make for some weird side-to-side reading. And don't even get started on the Young Justice tie-in...
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Alvin Kothers, AKA the Death Dancer, who does a little tap dance in front of his victims right before "liberating" them from their suffering via knife to the throat.
    • Black Mask and his so-called "True-Facers" also have shades of this.
  • No FEMA Response
  • Papa Wolf: Gordon engineers a war between two gangs so he can swoop in and take their land all because Barbara's apartment is in one of their territories.
  • Pet the Dog: Poison Ivy turning Robinson Park into a refuge for a dozen-odd homeless children and acting as their surrogate mother.
  • Professional Killer: Several, including David Cain and his daughter Cassandra, AKA Batgirl.
  • The Rat: Penguin, as usual, is on no one's side but his own.
  • Rich Idiot With No Day Job: Bruce Wayne tries unsuccessfully to play against this image, as he lobbies in Congress for Gotham's reinstatement. It eventually takes Luthor landing his helicopter right in the middle of the NML and throwing money at the problem to change it. For the next three years, Luthor doesn't let Bruce forget it.
  • Saintly Church: The Ark Project cathedral/refugee center.
  • Say My Name: Batman demands this after he beats the Ventriloquist, his first victory over a "territory" of Gotham held by a villain.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The Riddler is the only villain to flee Gotham: the rest stay to carve up what's left. During his time away, Nigma tests Green Arrow's patience. It doesn't turn out well for him.
  • Series Continuity Error: Inevitable, considering that a dozen-odd writers (and twice that many artists) worked on this crossover. Some of the more notable ones:
    • After Robin sneaked back into Gotham, Mr. Drake raised an enormous ruckus and paid to have the militia airlift Tim out of NML in Robin #73 - an incredibly publicized event that helped create the PR to end it. Afterward, however, Robin suddenly pops up again when the Joker finally makes his move on Christmas Eve, with nary a comment as to his presence.
    • When the Arkham escapees are seen witnessing NML with their own eyes in Batman #562, all of them are wearing their inmate uniforms, and the Riddler is amongst them, when A.) They had already donned their costumes several days prior to being released from Arkham and B.) Riddler had split up with them before they'd made it to the city.
  • Sherlock Scan: When Superman visits Gotham a second time as Clark Kent, Batman immediately picks apart the inconsistencies of his disguise as a resident of NML:

Batman: The toes of your shoes are scuffed, but you forgot to scuff the heels. Your shirt is dirty but bears no evidence of sweat or epidermal oil stains. And no one here has smelled like deodorant soap or laundry detergent for five months.

  • Shout-Out: Luthor's plan to "acquire some real estate" can remind one of his obsession with real estate in the first Superman movie. Luthor gets Bane to work for him by offering the Isle of Santa Prisca, home of the prison where Bane grew up.
  • Shown Their Work: The credits for "Underground Railroad" mini-arc mentions that the creative team got an actual martial artist to help plan out the martial arts sequences.
  • Sinister Scythe: The Joker is briefly seen wielding one when he takes his anger out on a stuffed Batman dummy.
  • Snow Means Death: Huntress' last stand against the Joker.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Sweet as he may be on Montoya, Two-Face definitely has shades of this. Which become full-blown in Gotham Central.
    • Disturbingly, The Penguin actually acts a bit like this toward Mercy Graves.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Even if the government's ban on anyone going in or out didn't apply to superheroes, Batman is adamant Superman keep out of his city. Superman refuses to listen but he gets the message after his efforts to help the city don't work out as he intended.
    • However, he later on comes Clark Kent. Seeing as the real enemy in NML is human nature, he feels he can do more good as a normal man helping others grow food than as a living god.
    • Before NML had started, Batman even told the freaking Justice League to back off, saying that Gotham should pull itself out of its own rubble. Look what happened there...
    • Jim Gordon's What the Hell, Hero? speech to Batman reveals another wrinkle: no other police force wants him in their city, not even the ones that have other superheroes, because they don't want someone who needs an urban legend to do their policework for them.
  • Take That:

Oracle: Of all the psychos, murderers, and thieves Bruce has defeated... he's never faced a bunch as dangerous as... the United States Congress.

  • Talking to Himself: A narrative device here: Harvey Dent, early and throughout. Most visible and most jarring during his prosecution of Jim Gordon and subsequent break-down.
  • There Is No Higher Court: Apparently, simply cutting off a city with millions of US citizens in it from help is legally a-okay.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Joker says this word-for-word when Bane confronts him.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The Ventriloquist (or more accurately, Scarface) is stated to have a sweet tooth for Zesti Cola.
  • Villainous Rescue: Believe it or not, The Penguin and his men come to help Blue Boy "Hardback" Bock against a group of street thugs so that Bock can take a dozen terminally ill children outside Gotham to seek medical attention.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After a territorial spat involving Penguin, Two-Face, and Huntress (posing as Batgirl at this point) goes horribly wrong, Batman gets a riproaring version of this from Jim Gordon.
    • Superman comes to quake-ravaged Gotham to help. Batman tells him to get the hell out.
  • Wicked Cultured: Bane, Lex Luthor (who in the novelisation gets his entire dinner menu and wine list gloriously narrated to the reader). The Penguin and his price-gouging bazaar aspire to this, but pull off a cheap imitation.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Directly mentioned and applied several times; the Penguin, in his first appearance during the arc, is seen being given a diamond necklace in exchange for an apple. Like some of the other characters, he knows that the NML decision will be reversed eventually, so he's trading what's valuable today for what will be valuable tomorrow.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Played straight by multiple characters; Two-Face has no problem with decking Sarah Essen-Gordon, and Bane tells his Hispanic "sidekick" that he only spared her because he needed someone to spread the word of his doings, and she posed the least threat.
  • You No Take Candle: Much like his other portrayals, KGBeast speaks like this.

"Glad am I to be seeing that you are not dead - so that I am to be killing you!"